Prior to my time at The Knox School, I was Chief Executive of a national association for Principals of independent schools. In my seven years in that role I had the privilege of visiting hundreds of independent, government and catholic schools across the country. I enjoyed speaking to their school leaders, inspecting their facilities but most importantly I was able to glean an understanding of the learning culture and effectiveness of the school.

You might think that a visit of an hour or two to a school would provide only a superficial insight into its operations. However, as an experienced educator one can gain a sense of a school very quickly if you are observant.

A slow walk around the campus, watching and listening to staff and students of the school can provide insights into the culture, the tempo and productivity, the engagement of students, the relationships among the students, and between the students and the teachers. These human insights are in addition to an inspection of the facilities, resources, and any discussion with the school Principal.

One can gain a good understanding of the student culture by watching and listening to how the students interact as they walk around the school or play and interact. In a secondary school, how they moved between classes can be indicative of their levels of engagement and how they smile or don’t smile, how they talk to or don’t talk to each other, how they meet the eyes of a stranger or if their eyes are downcast, all give some insight into the school culture .

How classrooms are set up with desks, where teachers stand and how they interact with students in class, how teachers interact with students outside of class; whether teachers are smiling, interested and alive or whether their faces are passive, their eyes dull, all provide clear indicators of the staff culture.

I provide this background as evidential background to the comments that I heard earlier this week. A former senior member of staff at The Knox School was back onsite as a CRT (Casual Relief Teacher).

The comments made by this experienced educator were illuminating. This person was impressed by the quiet buzz of focused activity they experienced in the school. Given the experiences and context of the 2020 school year, they had expected something different. They experienced a happy, engaged, focused love of learning being exhibited by students, and staff who obviously cared for their students and set them interesting, challenging but attainable learning goals.

This anecdotal feedback, given its source, is important as an indicator of how well the school has settled upon return to onsite learning. This is a testament to the quality of the school community, the students and the adults around them, their parents, their teachers and the general staff.